Archive for December 2006

Winding Down the Old Year

December 27, 2006

Wow. Here it is December 27th and I’m asking, “Just where has the year gone!” I had a couple of minutes and thought I would stroll down memory lane.
WREG did NOT become WHBQ West after all. Two out of three frontline anchors is close but no cigar there. Still, it apparently helped with the formula to help boost the Station DOTR to the lead in certain time slots that they weren’t already winning. They still have one more big time slot to hurdle in the race against WMC. We’ll have to see how it goes in 2007. I’m sure the former ND DOTR wishes she had stayed a few more months so SHE could claim the victory, but alas, “It’s all about timing”. The current ND DOTR gets to put that feather in his cap.
Fox 13 proved they have a formula that works in the morning. They will continue to do well.
The ratings trend didn’t help the manager situation at the Station on Union. First the GM departed back in the summer and speculation ran rampant about when ND Peggy Phillip would leave. That happened in December. Like her or not, the Pegster left her mark on the news business in the Bluff City. We’ll see where she lands next.
Some long-time radio personalities in the Memphis market got the boot, thanks to the bottom line. I hope the New Year brings some good news for them.
The first rumor of the pending sale of the NYTimes Broadcast group surfaced last summer and was announced a couple of months later. Everyone with that organization is still waiting for that second shoe to drop. I personally think the asking price for TV stations may have dropped a bit since Clear Channel announced they were selling their TV holdings as well. Hey, you flood the market with properties and companies that want to invest get to pick and choose.
As I mentioned on the date of my one year of blogging last week, I’ve heard from a lot of folks. Most were nice, some were not. Hey, I will give the not-so-nice people the benefit of the doubt that perhaps they were having a bad day. I’ve learned a lot about trying to stay fair and balanced. I have tried to be fair about my observations. A few of you have let me know when I strayed. It can be hard not to jump into the fray.
And, I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since my Dad succumbed to cancer. I find I still reach for the phone on occasion to call him for advice before I realize those days are gone. Sometimes I just feel the need to talk to him. I really miss him.
All in all, it’s been a good year. Like everyone else I’ve had some ups and downs. The bottom line is that my key still works at home so that means my lovely and talented bride Bethany hasn’t changed the locks and the two pups, Newby and Mac still jump up in my easy chair for a butt scratch. Talk about unconditional love all the way around. I’m a lucky guy.
So while I got caught up in a last minute rush and failed to post a Christmas greeting as I had intended, I will post a New Year’s wish to everyone who takes time to read this blog.
May the New Year bring you not so much what you want but what you need. And remember, sometimes wanting is indeed better than having.
Happy New Year everybody.
Joe Larkins


Will We Soon Have 24-Hours of Today!

December 27, 2006

As we wind down the year known as 2006, you have to hand it to the folks at NBC. When they get something that works, they don’t try to fix it. They just expand it.
This is unlike CBS which had a good thing going with Bob Schieffer on the CBS evening news. He gave the network a boost after Danny boy got the boot. I can visualize the wheels turning in the minds of the big-wigs. “Hey, We need something to really screw up the bottom line. Hey, let’s get Katie Couric over here from the Today show. They love her in the mornings and I’ll bet 15 million dollars they’ll love her in the evening. Hey, the audience is made up of a bunch of sheep. They’ll like what we want them to like.”
There was one problem. Viewers voted with their remote controls. Oh, there are some who say we need to give Katie time. I don’t think time will help. This after chatting with a couple of folks who used to tune in to Katie every morning on the Today show. THEY say she is out of her element on the evening news. I agree. She was Perky and Chatty on the morning shows. She can’t be perky and chatty on the evening show. It’s not a good fit. The big question is what to do with her now. We’ll know the folks at CBS are grasping at straws if they do the colonoscopy thing on live TV.
Meanwhile, the Today show is expanding and it turns out that the lack of KC isn’t that big of a deal on NBC. I ‘m not sure they miss her. The Today show still makes a ton of money for the network. And there’s talk of expanding it to four hours and perhaps adding Kelly Ripa to the mix. Of course you do run the risk of dilluting the product just as local news has been dilluted by the every-other hour of news product we seem to have on some stations. But if it makes some bucks in the short-run, that’s the important thing. Afterall, bonuses are based on “what have you done for me lately” not the big picture.
Still, someone has decided to see how far they can stretch the golden eggs of the Today show goose by scrambling them. Hey, it just might work. We’ll see in 2007

So, Just What is the Status of the Sale of the NYTimes Broadcast Group?

December 21, 2006

I get questions on a regular basis now from folks wanting to know if I’ve heard anything more about the pending sale of the NYTimes. Oh I’ve heard rumors like everyone else but nothing more concrete than that. I’ve heard and read on various internet sites that Allbritton has been nosing around some of the properties. Allbritton has stations in Tulsa and Little Rock. They could create a daisy chain by buying KFOR (Oklahoma City), KFSM (Ft. Smith) WREG (Memphis) and WHNT (Huntsville). I personally don’t know that much about Allbritton but from what I’ve read, it’s like any group with the big dog WJLA getting the most money and the others glad to have what they get.
I have also read where proposals were supposed to have been submitted last week so the brass can mull over the offers and see what’s on the table. As to when an announcement will be made depends on which quarter the NYTimes wants to shore up. Since the last quarter involved a lot of political advertising (which always helps the bottom line) they may hold off until the first quarter to announce the sale to help shore things up there. I’m just speculating here. If I had a great background in math and tax issues I would have been a CPA instead of a news person. Perhaps someone wise in the ways of monetary issues might weigh in here.
Also, the corporate big-wigs might wait until after Christmas to make an announcement in case the news isn’t too great. You know they really are quite sensitive to the little people. Just ask them. As long as it doesn’t interfer with THEIR end of the year bonus that is.

How Many Anchors Does It Take to Screw in a Lightbulb? and Today Marks an Anniversary

December 19, 2006

So, how many news anchors does it take to screw in a lightbulb? That was a question posed to me a number of years ago and if you work around a newsroom you’ll get a variety of answers from everyone including producers, reporters, videographers, assignment desk folks and the managers. The answer: Just one. The anchor just holds up the lightbulb and places it in the light socket. After all, the world revolves around him or her. But you’ll have to wait for the lightbulb to be installed until after they get back from a two and a half hour breakfast/lunch/dinner or they need to run some errands (unless they have an intern pick up their drycleaning) or you’ll have to wait until tomorrow because they have a date with a personal trainer/or have a nail appointment. Other than that, the anchor is ready to go.
No, I’m not picking on anchors this week. It’s just pointing out the obvious in some shops. Some people do make it easy to be targets.

And today is an anniversary for me. It was one year ago that I started this blog. In that first posting, I raised the question of why someone would start a blog and once a blog was started, would anybody read it or respond. I have been quite flattered to find a few folks do read. This past year I’ve had more than 60-thousand hits on the blog which has ranged topic-wise from what’s happening at local TV stations to the death of my father from cancer. I’ve found that along the way there are some people who read and respond on a regular basis and for a while there were those who couldn’t wait to spew forth the same old venom no matter what the topic. Those in the latter category finally went away. This blog has allowed me to reconnect with folks I’ve met over the past 25 years of my former TV career and to make some new friends.
I’ve considered pulling the plug on this blog several times over the past year and that may still happen at some point in time. But that time is not today nor this week (despite what some might wish) so I plan to jot down a few more thoughts and notes from time to time. Thank you for taking time to check in.

Do Male Anchors Help Out More Than Female Anchors, and Another Possible Buyer Could Be Breaking Up That Old Broadcast Group of Mine.

December 18, 2006

An interesting post by a former TV news producer raises a question. That comment suggested that when it comes to getting help on a newscast (writing scripts) male anchors tended to be more cooperative than females anchors. It’s an interesting observation and I’d be curious as to what producers have to say about it. Are male anchors more willing to help when the producer is female or does the gender of the producer really matter? Do female anchors help out more if they’re working with a male producer? I know I tried to help out whenever I could but I tended as an anchor to focus on the scripts I would read since I usually wrote in a particular style that somebody else might not want to read. It sometimes became obvious when script READS were changed at the last minute and a script might not have sounded the way it was supposed to especially if it was being read COLD.
I’d be curious if producers or former producers have an opinion on the amount of help they get or used to get from anchors.
And I don’t have this independently confirmed but is Allbritton Communications seriously looking at the NYTimes owned KFSM? That’s what is being suggested by a comment on the previous blog posting. A-C has stations in Tulsa and Little Rock and this would be a nice feather in their corporate cap. If anyone has any details, please share.
P.S.: I got home from being out of town over the weekend and found that my DSL line is down and that my only way to get on line is by lap-top and a dial-up connection. I find I like neither one. I hope to be back up to full speed by tomorrow.

The Ego Has Landed (Page Counting Anchors)

December 13, 2006

I had a conversation this week with a news producer at one of the television stations in Memphis and that producer shared with me the latest headaches of dealing with the egos of some anchors. According to the story shared with me, an anchor was just livid that the other person anchoring on the desk in this particular show got more stories to read in that particular half hour. To top everything off, this particular anchor was going to take this matter higher up the food chain, perhaps even outside the newsroom because this just could not be tolerated. “Oh the humanity. Is there no justice in this world?” What next, “Peace without honor?”
The conversation reminded me of one of the reasons I’m glad to be out of television news.
Don’t get me wrong. One has to have an ego to want to be in front of the camera to begin with. However, there are those who generally keep everything in check and then there are those known as “God’s Gift to TV News.” “Their public needs them.” I always felt I kept a pretty good perspective on the TV business while I was in it, especially after working with some who didn’t.
I worked with one person who not only kept things in perspective, she (in my opinion) was the most down to earth and laid back person I ever anchored with. I’m talking about Marybeth Conley. She told me once when we were first working together on the morning show that she really didn’t care how few scripts she read during the show. She said they paid her the same whether she read one story or all of them and reading less meant more time for her to balance her checkbook or make grocery lists which she often did while on the set. It was a philosophy that served me fairly well for the rest of my career in news.
Former news anchor Jerry Tate told me once he used to work with a person who was quite the script counter as well and that it grew quite tiresome after a very short time. Yes, it doesn’t take long for everyone to know in the newsroom that the “ego has landed.”
One final note: It would be interesting to see how many producers in the various newsrooms in Memphis get chewed out by the anchors who think I’m writing about them.

We’re Running This Story Because We have Great Video and the Memphis Manatee is Truly History

December 12, 2006

So, I’m grabbing my second cup of coffee and glance up at the TV which is tuned to MSNBC and I see Andrea Mitchell talking about “Breaking News” as they take a live satellite feed from Knoxville. The story: the airplane used by the traffic reporter in Knoxville can’t get the landing gear down and the pilot is having to circle to burn off fuel for the inevitable gear-up landing. Now, I was interested in the story since I’m a private pilot but and I’m not trying to be callous here, who really cares. Yes, the lives of some people are in danger and the pilot has to land but if there was a car crash in Knoxville involving a couple of people, would we care. It might be worthy of local coverage in that particular market. No, the only reason the video is shown is because it has the potential to be some great footage if the plane DIDN’T land without a major incident. Most of these landings, even with the bigger planes go without a hitch. Oh, the plane probably gets damaged but that’s because it landed on its belly. I fully expect to see this story on Memphis area TV newscasts.
The mantra of “run it because it’s good video” reminds me of something I posted on earlier in the year about video we ran when I was anchoring mornings. We had a story about a convenience store robbery in Australia. We ran the story because the security camera captured the robbery on video. I know this because I asked why we cared about this story and I was told “because we’ve got great video“. It had nothing to do with the story, just the video. Sometimes a story’s video does make it newsworthy, but many times it’s just filling a news hole. I’d bet there are some news directors who watch a live feed like a plane landing with its gear up and are saying to themselves or out loud, “I hope the pilot doesn’t make it”. I’ve seen this kind of behavior so I know it happens.
And speaking of not making it, the Memphis manatee bit the muck of the Mighty Mississippi. I was truly sorry to see it happen as I have a fondness for these gentle giants and had hoped he or she would be rescued and flown or trucked home. When he disappeared I had hoped he would have let the current take him farther south. But that’s not the way the story ended. Perhaps someone in the Memphis area will write a blues song in his honor.